It might not be called a "summer classic" just yet, but the MLS All Star game is an interesting bet for the soccer aficionado.
Unlike other North American All Star games, it pits the local stars against a big-name foreign club. This season it's the EPL side, West Ham United, that have come across the pond to take on the local stars and "brand" their name in the marketing Mecca of America.
The funny thing is, this year, the game takes place in Toronto, Canada. But all the West Ham players seem to have missed that fact.
The MLS roster has a good ring to it. A lot of quality veteran players with experience in this type of game. They have two goaltenders that have seen a lot of action this season and in years past.
I might have included Chicago's Jon Busch if I was in charge of picking teams, however, Canadian Pat Onstad deserves a chance to play in an All Star game in his home country for his service to the league.
On defense, the All Stars are paper thin with just four defenders and this will likely force them to use a three defenders back line. Frankie Hejduk is a tireless worker that is closing in to retirement. Jimmy Conrad is a center back that leads his Kansas City side in scoring with four goals at the All Star break.
Neil Borenstein has had an up and down season due to injuries, but he's an exciting player that is much better going forward than defending. Toronto captain Jim Brennan should be the first option off the bench and keep an eye out for the reception he gets from the crazy TFC fans.
The midfield oozes with talent. David Beckham (no intro needed) on the right should be pumping in service all night long. Shalrie Joseph of New England is the defensive steel, a ferocious tackler with an ability to run 100 percent all night.
Cristian Gomez has gone from the limelight with DC United to a bit of a black hole in Colorado but his ability to make plays and deliver the final pass is still there. Mexican Cuauhtemoc Blanco is a hated figure by fans around the league and the entire United States, but he is a difference maker.
He will be given a free roaming pass and his one on one abilities are about as legendary as his diving skills. Imagine Blanco pulling off dangerous free kicks and Beckham on standby to take them.
On the left I see young Colombian Juan Carlos Toja of FC Dallas getting the nod, he's also a guy that can push up and down the field and provide service. Depth wise, veteran Pablo Mastroeni of Columbus can play both as a defensive midfield or a centerback, he will probably be used on defense in this game.
Steve Ralston is an unselfish player and the MLS Iron Man. He will get his minutes and put in an excellent work rate without being flashy, a true professional. Local Toronto hero Dwayne DeRosario should have started this game in the playmaker role, however circumstances don't allow it.
You see, his side Houston had a game postponed in Washington a couple of months back due to a waterlogged pitch. The game was rescheduled for Tuesday night, but there was a power outtage, so they played it Wednesday night. Kind of.
There was a three-hour power outage/waterlogged pitch on Wednesday, but they eventually finished the game well past midnight, so chances are he's not likely to play a lot of minutes with the All Stars as he's fatigued, jet lagged and hasn't trained with the team. DeRosario and teammate Onstad weren't expected to arrive in Toronto until early Thursday.
Up top, it might not look very impressive, but it's a decent striking partnership with new Captain America (no Reyna MLS jokes here) Landon Donovan the leading goal scorer in the MLS likely to partner with Dallas' Mr. Goal, Kenny Cooper.
While Donovan has a lot of creativity on the ball and can dish as well as score, Cooper is a pure goal scorer, I am thinking a poor man's Ian Rush. He scores from anywhere inside 30 yards, can shoot with both feet, has an intimidating aerial game and doesn't back down from a challenge.
The depth is a bit questionable, Colombian Juan Pablo Angel is/was a top scorer in Europe, however he's been having an injury riddled season. The other option is Edson Buddle, maybe the comeback player of the year in the MLS, he's second in scoring behind Donovan and has really come out of nowhere. My guess is Joe Public could play forward on the Galaxy and score 6-8 goals with service from Beckham and Donovan, however, credit should be given to Buddle for doing his job well.
Coaching-wise, it's Steve Nichol of the Revolution behind the bench. He's very familiar with the English game having played at Liverpool in his heydays.
Other factors to consider: This game is play in front of the best MLS crowd in Toronto. The game is played on field turf, not natural grass – edge to the hosts here. The visitors are in preseason mode, playing their second and last game of their tour.
The Hammers disposed of a reserves-filled Columbus side 3-1 on Sunday, but the focus is on this game. They accepted the invitation to improve their brand image in a new market. They brought academy coaches to put on clinics and maybe, just maybe, spot a youngster they could bring back into their system.
West Ham does have one American on their books, national side defender Jonathan Spector, but he's banged up and we might see him play in a cameo appearance. Otherwise, it seems all the regulars will see action, just not 90 minutes of it.
Early in preseason with about three weeks to go until their EPL campaign gets under way, the focus here is to put on a good show and most importantly, STAY HEALTHY.
One thing the Hammers are bringing with them is their loyal fan support. So loyal in fact, that Sunday in Columbus, their notorious ICF(Inter City Firm) came to blows with the Crew supporters. That's one thing we really don't need their expertise in.
MLS All Stars are unbeaten against international competition as they beat Celtic 2-0, Chelsea 1-0, Fulham 4-1 and Chivas Guadalajara 3-1 in past All Star games.
MLS Predicted Lineup:
Reis - Hejduk, Conrad, Bornstein - Beckham, Joseph, Gomez, Blanco, Toja - Donovan, Cooper
Pat Onstad Houston Dynamo GK
Matt Reis New England Revolution GK
Jim Brennan Toronto FC D
Jonathan Bornstein Chivas USA D
Jimmy Conrad Kansas City Wizards D
Frankie Hejduk Columbus Crew D
David Beckham Los Angeles Galaxy M
Cuauhtémoc Blanco Chicago Fire M
Juan Toja FC Dallas M
Steve Ralston New England Revolution M
Dwayne De Rosario Houston Dynamo M
Christian Gomez Colorado Rapids M
Shalrie Joseph New England Revolution M
Pablo Mastroeni Colorado Rapids M
Juan Pablo Angel New York Red Bulls F
Edson Buddle Los Angeles Galaxy F
Kenny Cooper FC Dallas F
Landon Donovan Los Angeles Galaxy F
Logans.com price has MLS All Stars +55, West Ham +140, Draw +220
Keep in mind that this is preseason for West Ham and they will use their bench liberaly. MLS is in midseason, they might not have the cohesion of a club side, however they are well motivated, have the knowledge to play on field turf and history is on their side.